Gaining experience in Project Management

It’s a horrible catch 22 situation. You want a job in Project Management but to get a job you need experience. You can’t get experience without having a job. For me, I started out as an intern working in a PMO and supporting other Project Managers. This gave me the opportunity to “try out” different roles and see which one I liked the best. Within my role of the PMO, I also conducted trainings, supported in things like KPI writing/documentation as well as researching effective Project Management softwares for us to use within the organisation. It was all free experience!

During a recent webinar that I held for the PMI in their “Virtual Student Summit”, a lot of the attendees were asking about the best way to gain experience in Project Management, especially when they are still relatively new in their career. During this blog, I’ll explore a few ways that you can gain experience without necessarily having a permanent Project Management position.

1) Volunteer

This is perhaps the easiest way to gain experience. There’s a few ways that you can do this:

  • Volunteer with your local PMI Chapter and get more experience supporting the chapter /helping out with initiatives. Many PMI chapters are connected with the PMI EF (Educational Foundation) who are always looking for volunteers.
  • Volunteer with PMI directly through their volunteer system VRMS (www.vrms.pmi.org). This portal is where all volunteer vacancies are posted and you can upload your own profile and match to vacancies in your area
  • Support a local charity/organisation that are looking for volunteers. This is perhaps a lot more meaningful to you as an individual, especially if it’s a charity you support. There are a lot of charities/ initiatives out there that are looking for support. An example being HTBOX (http://www.htbox.org/blog/why-volunteer-for-htbox-use-your-powers-for-good).
Volunteering at a local food kitchen with other PMI volunteers

2) Internship

Internships are a great way to gain experience either shadowing a Project Manager or by taking on smaller project management activities within a project. Internships can be both paid and unpaid and are a great way of exposing yourself to the project lifecycle in reality and also seeing how Project Management works on a day to day basis. I recommend to students wanting to get into Project Management to do internships throughout their university studies and during the holidays. This is also a great way to network!

3) Apprenticeships

I’ve seen an increase of Apprenticeships in the IT sphere rise dramatically in the past few years as people transition from another field or speciality to IT Project Management. Being an apprentice has the advantage that it’s normally paid but also gets you “in the deep end of projects” so you’re working directly alongside Project Managers or in a PMO. Apprenticeships are great for allowing you to use your skills learnt in another area of business/experience area.

4) Junior PM positions/ PM Coordinators

A lot of vacancies that I see for Jr. Project Managers/ Coordinators don’t explicitly state “x years experience in Project Management required”, so this can be a good way to work your way in from the bottom. In several positions before me, I’ve entered as a Jr. Specialist and then gained experience in smaller projects/portfolios before moving onto more complex projects.

5) Go Freelance

If you have the time/ability: consider going freelance to take on smaller jobs/projects which could help you fill up those contact hours.

What counts as Project Management experience anyway?

Would you be surprised if I told you that you don’t need to be a Project Manager to get Project Management experience? Activities like: building websites for your local animal shelter, leading a team at your local food bank. They all count as they fit into the 5 key knowledge areas (Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring and Controlling, Closing). If you’re transitioning into Project Management from another field, you may find that you already have the experience listed under different areas. Examples include:

  • Leading a software project as a developer
  • Working in QA on a project
  • Infrastructure support on Project

A lot of universities are now pushing the importance of extra curricular activities and this can really benefit you in learning more about teamwork and the soft skills that you’ll need to be a successful project manager.

Don’t forget your soft skills!

This is an area that is often missed/skipped when people are preparing an application for project management. When looking at applications, I want to see an all rounder in Project Management. I don’t just want to see someone who has the leadership experience but someone who can build teams/works well in a team environment, can handle stress. Soft skills can really make a Project Manager so don’t forget that you may already have a wealth of experience doing what you’re already doing outside of the classro/workplace.

Look at “stepping stone” certifications

I’ve recently seen a rise in the CAPM certification and the number of juniors coming through with this clear knowledge of the foundation of Project Management and it’s really interesting to see how different this makes them against their peers as they already show a clear foundation and commitment to Project Management and their ability to understand and use Project Management concepts and theory.

Getting started in Project Management is a really exciting time and I’d love to know how you started in your career. Let’s connect and share knowledge!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s